Bismarck´s un ending arguments

Discussions about the history of the ship, technical details, etc.
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Karl Heidenreich
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Bismarck´s un ending arguments

Postby Karl Heidenreich » Fri Mar 24, 2006 9:12 pm

From the very beggining of this forum a lot of technical, historical and tactical questions regarding Bismarck had been circling, specially around the technical criteria.
I´ll try to sum up these positions and questions so we can discuss them in a way that, at the end, we can have results. First I must state clearly that this are not my opinions but the sum of the opossing criteria over Bismarck. This must be clear enough.
I´ll take only the technical arguments because we can conclude from them. If we talk tactics or commanders then we will never finish.
Ok: One theory, in favor of Bismarck, came from the myths surrounding her and from books like the baron´s and others. The other theory came from positions like Jon Parshall´s Combined Fleet and such that state, without hesitation, that Bismarck was a mediocre Battleship. Some books are in favour of this criteria like Robert Henson "WWII Warship Guide".
To do it I must break the contrasting positions in parts (or chapters) that can be considered alone and not confusing one with another:
I./ Bismarck design and characteristics.
Theory one: The Bismarck was, at May 1941, the most modern Battleship operational. Her design was a masterpiece in both, armour and armament. With a PC/TC relation of 17/22 with a 70% pf her lenght consisting of 17,540 tons of armour (for a total displacement of 50,900 tons, one of, if not the heaviest ) and a main battery of 8 x 380 mm L/47 and a impressive rate of fire.
Theory two: The Bismarck was a descendant of WWI Bayern-Baden Class BB. As such she inherited a lot of design problems and weaknesses of that kind of vessels. Her belt armour was too shallow, not deep enough, her gearing systems, as the rudders, were not protected enough or properly. The three shaft - propeller arragement was faulty and her gunnery defective: the shells often didn´t detonate and the firing direction was lousy. The Richelieu Class, for example, was clearly superior in comparison, and South Dakota Class could have beat Bismarck anytime.

II. Bismarck´s at Denmarck Straits
Theory one: Bismarck´s very accurate fire direction finished the Hood with effective plunging fire. The Hood´s weaknesses forced Admiral Lancelot Holland to approach in such a way that the British Squadron was, at the beggining of the fight, in disadvantage. Schenider´s accuracy was proverbial and the hit wasn´t lucky but precise. After finishing Hood the Bismarck was capable of sinking the badly damaged PoW. It was Lutjens´ decision not to do so. Lutjens´s, in fact, saved PoW of a certain death at the hands of Bismarck presicion fire.
Theory two: Bismarck´s sinking of the Hood was a lucky hit, nothing more. As a matter of fact the German Fire Direction wasn´t that good and the shells defective. PoW was victim of her own mechanical failures and was forced to break combat. But is she would have stayed she wasn´t in that class of lethal danger. The POW´s skipper was at fault for breaking combat. An example of this was the damage that PoW did to Bismarck, including a hit below her main belt and the bow´s near crucial hit.

III. Bismarck vs. Swordfish
Theory one: At that time Bismarck had a remarkable AA battery. The fact that she wasn´t able to shot down a single slow biplane was due to an AA concept of 1941. The hit on her rudder was a very lucky one. No Battleship (we can go farther stating that NO WARSHIP) in the world could have endured better than Bismarck such a blow. Even most modern designs as Iowa or Yamato wouldn´t have done better.
Theory two: The Bismarck amount of AA was insufficient and with lousy fire direction. Only that explains Bismarck´s inabillity to shot down such a slow and vulnerable Swordfish biplanes. The hit at her rudder was most likekly a lucky one but the effects were a product of her mediocre design. The Bismarck three shaft arragement and vulnerable rudder disposition and structure were responsible for the lost of the ship. An Iowa, a Yamato or even a South Dakota or Richelieu Class would have done much better.

IV. Final Battle
Theory one: Bismarck´s was able to absorb all the punishment the British did throw to her. With her rudder´s damaged and doing 7 knots without governability she wasn´t able to seriously damage or sink at least one of her opponents. At the end her own crew scuttled her to avoid further pain to them and deprive the victors of a prize.
Theory two: Bismarck was a victim of all her failures. Not even doing 20 knots and with her rudders undamaged she wouldn´t be able to save herself of the impending doom. The British punishment was brutal and the torpedoes of Dorsetshire sign her end.

Well? Anything else to add? These are the two positions. The thruth must lie between them, maybe something of one is correct but the rest doesn´t or viceversa. Well... :think:

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Postby Bgile » Sat Mar 25, 2006 12:28 am

And you are doing this why? To start a big fight? :) Your statements seem to be calculated to be controversial whatever one's point of view is. I dislike absolute opposites like you presented here because there are part truths in most of them.

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Postby marcelo_malara » Sat Mar 25, 2006 3:52 pm

Think he is trying to order ideas...

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Postby Bgile » Sat Mar 25, 2006 4:28 pm

I'm sorry - I didn't mean to sound so critical and I know you are just trying to foster discussion, but most of the theories are so extreme ...

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Postby Matthias » Sun Mar 26, 2006 1:26 pm

Bgile wrote: but most of the theories are so extreme ...


In effect, I would say that a german will support the firsts and a british the seconds... :angel:

I guess a mean between the two would be the best answer.

Apart for the first question, I support theory number one.
"Wir kämpfen bis zur letzten Granate."

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Postby miro777 » Sun Mar 26, 2006 4:48 pm

hey
as u mentioned the germans would go for theory one.
and i actually totally agree with theory except for part III
the swordfish part.
I don't think that the AA armament was sufficient, but of course that rudder hit was the luckeist hit ever.

Only from then on ship designers put a focus also on protecting the rudder.

well this is a very controversial discussion, but for im german i gotta support theory 1.

adios
miro
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Postby Bgile » Mon Mar 27, 2006 5:35 pm

A US Carrier was hit on the rudder by a torpedo and remained in control, steering with the screws.

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Postby Matthias » Mon Mar 27, 2006 8:43 pm

Even italian battleship Vittorio Veneto did it, some hours before the battle off Cape Matapan, when she was hit by a Swordfish near the port rudder.
Simply the damage on Bismarck's rudder was due to the sofisticated gear which controlled the steering and which went irreparabily blocked.
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Postby Karl Heidenreich » Mon Mar 27, 2006 9:08 pm

Bgile wrote:
And you are doing this why? To start a big fight? :) Your statements seem to be calculated to be controversial whatever one's point of view is. I dislike absolute opposites like you presented here because there are part truths in most of them.


I am sorry, I wasn´t trying to trouble anybody. That´s why, from the very beggining I wrote this:

I´ll try to sum up these positions and questions so we can discuss them in a way that, at the end, we can have results. First I must state clearly that this are not my opinions but the sum of the opossing criteria over Bismarck. This must be clear enough.


And at the end:

These are the two positions. The thruth must lie between them, maybe something of one is correct but the rest doesn´t or viceversa.


Since I was a boy, many years ago, I´ve been hearing that the Bismarck was this or the Bismarck was that. The theories aren´t my invention, they are all over books, magazines and documentaries. Wasn´t James Cameron the one who stated in his documentary: "... the Bismarck was the Death Star of her time..." So, after reading this so much I came with this idea, that I reckon now was a mistake, of sum them up and wrote them in the forum. Why? Because so many people with knowledge that freely discuss here can give an "aye" or a "no" to these positions and, at the end, we will know what is CERTAIN and what ISN´T about all these things being said over the Bismarck. As I stated, the thruth must lie between them: some are right, other are wrong, and I don´t believe that your birthplace must rule what are you going to support: I´m half Spanish, 1/4 Norwegian and 1/4 English (not a German drop of blood) but I do love the Bismarck´s history as I love the Yamato´s one or the Titanic´s. Is there controversy? Of course. Is there a motive to fight? I think not.

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Postby Bgile » Tue Mar 28, 2006 2:13 pm

Well, you are right about the answer being a combination of the theories. I could take parts of each answer.

The closest I'd come to picking one is the AAA one. It was terrible. I don't buy the "shells went through the fabric" argument - the Swordfish was a large, slow moving aircraft and direct hits in the engine area should have been possible. In the Germans defense, I do have to say that no navy had very good AAA at that time. It was behind the offensive capability of aircraft. All you have to do is look at what happened to PoW and Repulse many months after the Bismarck episode, and they still weren't able to defend themselves very well.

The US Navy took a long time to get it right, eventually having radar picket destroyers many miles from the fleet. They in turn vectored fighters onto incoming aircraft in time to intercept them before they could attack the main body. They themselves were often victims, but were considered expendable.

AAA went through several major improvements. The first was the 40mm Bofors, much superior to the multiple pom-pom. By the end of the war the US Navy had decided that even that wasn't sufficient against Kamikazes and guided bombs and had begin replacing them with 3" guns, which were large enough to use proximity fuses. The 5"/38 was a good gun, but even with many improvements in FC methods it wasn't truly effective until the advent of the proximity fuse.

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Postby Karl Heidenreich » Tue Mar 28, 2006 3:52 pm

I agree with Bgile and Miró in regard with the point of the AA batteries. And I agree too with the notion that it was a problem in all the warships in 1941: you just have to see what happened to PoW and Repulse and the modifications in the warships after that. So, I propose, we can say that Bismarck´s AA problems were due to a lack of experience of all navies circa 1941 in relation to AA defense. The Bismarck chapter (along with Taranto, Pearl, PoW and Repulse, etc.) helped the combatants to, at least try, solve this problem. But by 1982 the Exocet hit in the Sheffield demostrated that AA would be an ongoing problem with surface vessels.

But this troubles me:

Matthias:
Simply the damage on Bismarck's rudder was due to the sofisticated gear which controlled the steering and which went irreparabily blocked.


As far as I can see it, the damage on the rudders was so huge that nothing could be done, anyway. The starboard rudder simply dissapear from the torpedoe´s detonation and the port side one lost it´s axis and became just twisted metal. No gear, sophisticated or primitive, could have manage that. Maybe the damage that was mentioned on the US Carrier and Vittorio Venneto wasn´t of that magnitude.
I believe that, also, the central propeller became seriously damaged. i believe that what can be said is, as theory No. 2 states in this part, was that the design never contemplated such a blow. :think:

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Postby pdfox99 » Tue Mar 28, 2006 6:09 pm

The Port rudder was actually lodged into the center screw. Whether it happend during the torpedo explosion, or during impact onto the ocean floor we don't know for sure.
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Postby Bgile » Tue Mar 28, 2006 7:45 pm

pdfox99 wrote:The Port rudder was actually lodged into the center screw. Whether it happend during the torpedo explosion, or during impact onto the ocean floor we don't know for sure.


Do we have testimony concerning whether the center screw was able to turn after the torpedo hit?

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Postby pdfox99 » Tue Mar 28, 2006 7:59 pm

I wouldn't know. My statement came from one of James Cameron's video of the stern in his documentary
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Postby Karl Heidenreich » Tue Mar 28, 2006 8:34 pm

Even without the center propeller destroyed but working properly how do Bismarck steers? I watched the Cameron´s documentary and saw the scene of the torpedoe hit: starboard rudder vaporizes while the port one is completely crippled. No way to steer a 50,000 ton warship in heavy seas without the rudders.
But, because Cameron´s documentary is,... well, Cameron´s then there is a doubt about this. Nobody ever see the damage before the ship was actually sunk!
One thing though: Was 7 knots the best that Bismarck could do or was a desicion to maintain that speed?


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